How Your Brand Content Can Add Real Value During Covid-19 and Beyond

When the COVID-19 crisis got serious in early March, “Our response to COVID-19” emails from brands became so relentless that they went from logically informative to comically meme-worthy in less than a week. It’s always a good idea to reach out to customers if something about your business changes, but there seemed to be an “everyone else is doing it” factor at play — while an email from a healthcare organization made sense, customers didn’t necessarily need one from a company that makes dog toys.

It’s understandable that in the unprecedented chaos, many brands didn’t know exactly what kind of messages customers wanted or needed and followed the lead of others. Some companies were quick to create smart, useful, relevant owned content — we highlighted some of them last month, along with our digital expert’s guidelines for reevaluating and refocusing social media and content marketing

Now, the crisis has evolved and people are navigating a new, indefinite normal — and so should companies, by moving forward with extreme thoughtfulness about the content they use to educate and connect with customers. Newsrooms are still overwhelmed as well as hyper focused on the pandemic, and ad budgets are shrinking or in jeopardy, making owned channels particularly valuable if you have value to add to a conversation, about COVID-19 or otherwise, with relevant expertise and resources.

Below is guidance from the Mission North Content Studio on how to approach and prioritize owned content, as well as contributed bylines, in a difficult period when most customers are anxious and need help making choices, but have little tolerance for marketing dressed up as concern. Many thanks to our content team members, Sam Whitmore, and Mission North’s media practice for their insight.

Focus on owned content

Pitching reported stories or contributed commentary should be done with extra consideration right now. If a company wants to speak directly to its customer base, which is as important as ever, lean into blogs, LinkedIn and Twitter posts, and other owned resources and guides that your company is uniquely qualified to create (to wit: you don’t need to produce the thousandth remote work tips blog post if your company has no special expertise in it; leave that to fully remote companies like Zapier). 

Compared to blog or social media fare during regular times, this content — when well done — can now be crucial for reaching relevant audiences. For example, an April TBWD study found that CEOs who used LinkedIn to address the crisis head-on with genuine messages of gratitude and reassurance, positive post engagement increased 90%. In hard times, people actually want to hear from leaders and companies that they have or could have some connection to in order to see where their needs and values align.

Some examples of thoughtful owned content initiatives that add value during the crisis:

In hard times, people actually want to hear from leaders and companies that they have or could have some connection to in order to see where their needs and values align.

Look to the future 

If you are pitching contributed content to outlets, you may be most successful with predictions. People want hopeful content and even a small silhouette of the future. Editors tell us they’re looking for perspectives on the leading indicators for a turnaround, so think about what insights you can offer into a specific industry. What could be the signs that retail will return, or travel will restart? Optimism will be welcome, especially if executives can give the business community an interesting and positive prediction of the world that awaits us after this pandemic is over, or can illustrate a story of resilience that will carry companies through. 

Be timely

While in some ways every day feels the same, this crisis is evolving, and news cycles are moving quickly. Some of your content may have a shorter shelf life than normal, and that’s OK. 

If you have a unique and useful point of view on an emerging topic or trend, make sure you’re turning it around in time with the fast-moving updates we’re seeing. This may mean a quick-turnaround post on your company blog or LinkedIn, but a really timely and thoughtful piece like this one from Gusto’s CEO and COO can make the cut as a contributed byline.

Or, be evergreen 

Brands are understandably (and in most cases rightly) holding off on launching new products and resources in order to be sensitive to current uncertainties and anxieties. But people are navigating work, family, finances, health and other concerns. If your company has expertise and a smart perspective on something that might genuinely help your audience, it might be a great time to create a resource that can be used now and into the future. For instance, infrastructure doesn’t pause because of a pandemic, and guidance for CIOs can be even more applicable when organizations are resource-constrained. Likewise, leaders still need non-COVID-related content about managing teams, like Lattice’s very human Like A Boss advice column by author Jennifer Romolini, part of the company’s comprehensive Resources for Humans online magazine for managers and HR professionals. If anything, the fundamentals become more important as implications of the current situation unfold. 

Get specific

As people settle into a new way of living and working, their needs get more specific—questions change from “what is happening?” to “how do we address the effects of this crisis?” Op-ed pitches need a focused, strong angle as reporters and editors get inundated with COVID-19 emails. The same goes for owned content aimed at overwhelmed readers. Be prescriptive for a specific audience. What are the novel ways that different segments (retail, cybersecurity, restaurants) and job functions (heads of ecommerce, CTOs) are coping and adapting to change? As layoffs increase, can you provide a resource that would help people in a particular field become stronger candidates? Do you have proprietary data, like Invoca’s data on call volume changes in specific industries, that can be turned into a regularly updated resource for tracking industry trends during the crisis?

If your company has expertise and a smart perspective on something that might genuinely help your audience, it might be a great time to create a resource that can be used now and into the future.

Your company wouldn’t be in business if it didn’t have specialized knowledge and service to offer. It’s time to think less about how sharing your expertise will benefit your business and more about how it will benefit your customers and broader audiences. Everything about people’s information diet has changed, and brands need a thoughtful strategy for how content can add real value and hope.